Hilleberg the Tentmaker Celebrates its 50th Anniversary
2021 marks Hilleberg’s 50th year of making the highest quality tents for outdoor adventurers. Used on every continent and in all types of weather and terrain, Hilleberg tents are renowned for their strength, reliability, ease of use, and function-first construction.
Founded in 1971 by Bo and Renate Hilleberg, Hilleberg is one of very few outdoor companies that has focused exclusively on only one category of product – tents and shelters – from its inception. “Even when many outdoor companies began diversifying their product lines, we felt that specializing in one product category, and really doing that to the best of our abilities, was the best way for us,” says Bo.
Always one to go its own way, Hilleberg has not only remained steadfast in its specialization, but in its rigorous approach to quality, as well. With their first tent, the company pioneered linked outer and inner tent construction, allowing for simultaneous pitching. In 1975, Hilleberg was the first to use silicone-coated fabrics in their outer tents. “To achieve our goal of building the highest quality tents,” says Bo, “from the beginning we have always taken a function-first approach: choose the best materials; make sure every detail has a purpose and that it performs as it should; and maximize the tent’s margin of safety, the ‘insurance’ we build into in our tents that helps protect from both unforeseen occurrences and user mistakes.”
An integral part of Hilleberg’s high quality comes from its unique, company-owned and -operated manufacturing hub. “When we moved production out of Sweden in the late 90s, we purposely chose to keep our manufacturing in Europe,” says Bo. “We chose Estonia, because we knew that it would allow us to maintain the high quality we wanted. Not only is Estonia close to Sweden, meaning less travel time, but it also has a very similar culture as well as a history of skilled textile manufacturing.” Renate had created the original production system in Sweden, and the company uses the same method in the facility in Rapla, Estonia. “The system Renate created scaled up perfectly,” says Bo. “We started with two sewers in our first facility in Frösön, Sweden, and today we have around 60 tent makers in Estonia, in both our own facility and in the select contract operations we have chosen to work with.”
From the start, Hilleberg was a family-run company, and remains enthusiastically so today. Bo still leads product development and is the Chairman of the Board. Renate, who led the production team until 2010, still consults on prototyping and serves on the board. Bo and Renate’s children, Rolf and Petra, quite literally grew up in tents – they did their first solo overnight trip at age 5 and 4 respectively – and remain an integral part of the company. Rolf served as Managing Director of the European operation and continues to serve on the board, and Petra is the CEO of the Hilleberg Group, which oversees the entire concern, as well as President of both the European and US operations.
“I am both profoundly lucky and proud to be able to call Bo and Renate my parents,” says Petra. “I am deeply grateful that they entrusted me with their life’s work, and I do my utmost to carry on that legacy every single day. Their sheer determination to build the most functional, strongest, and most useable tents of the very highest quality has never wavered. To go from simple paper drawings and a sewing machine in the attic to having built an entire development and manufacturing system, as well as to have produced many innovations that have become standard on other brands’ tents, and to having created a loyal, engaged and happy customer base all around the world is an immense accomplishment.”
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